Live music can be a treat for the senses but for Allyson Glenn its an experience with a much deeper effect.
“It’s really funny,” said Glenn. “I have for some reason memorized all the colours of the numbers on the wall when I was a kid and I just for some reason every time I think of a certain number I’ve got this colour thing.”
Shortly after sharing this fact about herself to a colleague in grad school when she was 24, she heard the term synesthesia for the first time.
“It wasn’t until a few years later and a few Google searches and learning a little bit more about it that I realized I had different forms,” said Glenn
Some experts refer to synesthesia as a neurological condition but for Glenn it’s more of a phenomena that allows her to experience one of her sense through another.
“Numbers are colours,” said Glenn. “But numbers also have personalities and gender. Number eight is red and female and seven is male and green that sort of thing. Letters have colour to them but I don’t have gender association with those.”
Glenn said she often can remember a person by the colour associated to the first letter of their name and often will have the colour flash before the person’s name comes to her.
Her unique view of the world is what inspired a collaboration with the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra in 2018.
“We got to talking and Dean McNeill who’s the artistic director said how about you put together some visuals for one of our concerts,” said Glenn, “and I said to him, ‘Well, you know I can see shapes and forms and they move within space when I hear sound.'”
Glenn said at this time she had started to learn how to do 3D animation. With the help of a gaming program she was able to develop 3D shapes in and out of space. The images were then projected behind the orchestra.
The feedback was so positive, they came together once again to create two unique scores for Dimensions in Sound. The collaboration this time around, Glenn said, was approached in some ways in a more scientific way.
“The composers were commissioned by the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra,” said Glenn. “Then they approached me with a bunch of sounds they had recorded and asked me to write what I saw depending on what sound I would hear.”
Twenty sounds were given to Glenn to listen to and she was asked to fill out a form with what she could see.
Glenn said this allowed the composers to develop music knowing it would trigger certain visuals to re-appear within the score of the music.
“They gave me the music but then didn’t tell me about the origin or the inspiration,” said Glenn. “And they didn’t know what kinds of visuals I would create for the music either.”
Two songs with two very different themes, “Above the Deluge” made Glenn think of the sea and an underwater experience, while “In the Fray” had Glenn hearing a more industrial sound that inspired old film footage she said that looked drawn over.
For Artistic Director Dean McNeill, Dimensions in Sound was an experience that helped him grow as a musician.
“This project and music in general,” said McNeill. “But really this project has taught me to not assume that you know someone else’s story.”
It’s a program both hope will allow people attending a better understanding of how unique music can be experienced.